First Generation College Symposium kicks off District 211’s month of college events

Sourojit Mazumder, News Editor

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended much of our lives these past 18 months, and for many high school seniors, one thing that has changed is the one they may have already dreaded the most: college applications. Yet for many students, even during a pre-pandemic year, it can be intimidating to understand the many intricacies of the American college application system. 

During the month of September, Township High School District 211 offered several college-related programs and seminars to inform and advise students along with their parents about the extensive college application process. One of the more unique events, the First Generation College Symposium, was hosted virtually on Sept. 16. The symposium, traditionally held in person at Palatine High School, was aimed to educate and inform families whose student(s) will be the first to attend college after high school. Speakers at the symposium included representatives from a number of two- and four-year colleges and universities, who discussed topics like the application process and financial aid.

Fremd High School Counselor Priscilla Torres, an organizer and speaker at the symposium, discussed some of the hopes the event organizers had regarding the event.

“We want to make sure that we can reach as many students as we can who fall into the first-generation community so that they can start to see college as an option for their future,” Torres said. “For a lot of these kids, it’s not just that their parents didn’t go to college, but they can’t afford to go to college, and so they close that idea off pretty quickly. That’s why financial aid is such a big part of our presentation, so that parents know that their student’s dream of going to college is possible.”

In addition, Torres mentioned how a virtual event this year and last may have benefited students and their families in some ways that an in-person symposium couldn’t.

“Both formats [in-person and virtual] have their pros and cons, but I think it was great that for the past two years, families have had access to presentation materials and recordings of the Q&A sessions that they wouldn’t have had before the pandemic,” Torres said.

In addition to the First Generation College Symposium, the district also held a Virtual College Finance Seminar (Sept. 14) as well as the Virtual Directions College and Career Fair (Sept. 28), an event designed to inform and support students with disabilities in planning for life after high school. The fair provided an opportunity for students and parents to explore post-secondary career training and college options.

As its final college-related event for the season, the district will host the College Night program at Palatine High School on Oct. 5 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. During College Night, which will be held in person this year, more than 150 representatives from colleges and universities across the country will be available to talk with prospective students about their institutions. College Night is open to students of all backgrounds, including first-generation students. Representatives will discuss financial aid, curriculum, and campus information. College Night serves as a useful opportunity for high school juniors and seniors to discover more about a large number of colleges and universities without having to physically travel to schools, which may be especially helpful during the pandemic.

Torres noted that although the amount of information related to the college application process can be intimidating, merely attending the symposium and other college events has opened up opportunities that many students may not have realized they had access to.

“Even if they don’t retain all the information that we give them, just the students knowing that we put these resources together for them and that we just want to help them and support them is a big deal,” Torres said. “To me, the main takeaway is that our students know that we’re here to support them.”